Archive for the ‘Family and Friends’ Category

On our second day in Yosemite, we got going at a reasonable time. It was still pretty cold in the morning until the sun had a chance to warm the place up a bit. Bridal Veil Creek Campground is at an elevation of 7000 feet so expect it to be a little colder than some of the campgrounds at lower elevation. We had coffee and a warm breakfast to help us warm up though.

The plan for day two was to head down into the valley to explore and to do the short hike up to the bridge below Vernal Falls. This would be our only full day in Yosemite for this quick car camping trip so we wanted to make the best of it. Our first stop on the way down to the valley was at the iconic Tunnel View stop. Don’t pass this parking lot up if you are coming in to Yosemite from the south. If you are not drive up here anyway. No visit to Yosemite is complete without seeing the valley from this angle!

It was a hazy fall day, so the valley features are blurred, but if every picture I took from this place was under the same conditions it would be a bit boring. So I love this picture as much as any I have taken from Tunnel View. Also take note of the yellow/dead trees in the foreground. Although the main Yosemite Valley area was mostly unaffected by the bark beetle when we visited in September 2016, the surrounding areas were affected and some areas you could see from the high roads leading into the park from the south were absolutely devastated. As I write this there is a huge fire, the 2017 Detwiler fire is raging west of Yosemite. Although I fear this fire could easily rage through these areas damaged by the bark beetle I have mixed feelings about it. Some area have 50% or more dead trees and so I don’t know what else could clear this many dead trees. I feel for the residents in this area who may lose their homes and I hope everyone involved stays safe, but unfortunately large fires in California are inevitable over the next several years until these large swaths of dead trees are cleared.

Our plan for our only full day in Yosemite was to hike up the John Muir/Mist Trail to at least the bridge below Vernal Falls. This part of the trail is fairly easy and paved to the bridge. It does have some steep parts, but walking up through the rocks and trees is worth it.

Heading-up-John Muir-Mist-Trail

We came down at the end of our 2010 Panorama Trail hike in 2010. I thought back to that hike when I saw Dave walking backward up the trail.


In 2010 we had not done much training to prepare for the Panorama Trail hike, and we were really feeling it in our calves by this part of the trail. The youngsters (Sean and Matthew) were doing fine, but Dave, Richard, and I were feeling it. I don’t have pictures of us lower on the trail to Vernal, but I do have a picture of the 3 old guys on the Mist Trail just below Vernal Falls.

Dave - Richard and Eric near the top of Vernal Falls

We would not go that high on the trail on this trip, and there would be much less water on Vernal, but this is a beautiful trail no matter what the conditions are. This time there would only be a trickle of water coming over Vernal Falls and even that was barely visible from the bridge.

We had our lunch on the rocks just past the bridge. As usual the squirrels, and birds were very interested in our food. We headed back down from this point and back to where we parked at Curry Village. Yeah I know they renamed it to Half Dome Village, but I’m not interested in what it says on the signs! It will always be Curry Village to me.

We did some souvenir shopping at Curry Village and the Main Yosemite Village stores, and then decided to get Pizza. It was fortune for us that the Pizza Parlor at the Yosemite Village was closed, because that lead us back to Curry Village to the Pizza place there. The pizza was good, but the real win was the lighting on the canyon walls when we got ready to leave. We stopped on the side of the road just outside Curry Village. From there we saw quite a show. Half Dome and North Dome were lit to a Golden Glow.


A deer was grazing on grass just a little ways off the road.


And the moon was just about to set behind Glacier Point.

With a little zoom, it was much more impressive…


As much as I love those pictures, my favorite picture of the trip would be a drive by picture at Tunnel View on our way back to Bridal Veil campgrounds. It was getting late and we still had a ways to go to get back to our campsite, so no one really wanted to get out to look take a second look. I snapped this picture from the car.

Normally I try to get up to the wall and leave everyone out of this picture. What I like so much about this picture is the people. The smiles, the families… this is really what I love most about Yosemite, sharing it with family and friends.

The lighting was great though, so I parked and ran up for one more picture, without the people.

Beautiful, but I like the first one better. We got back to camp, started a campfire and braved the cold for a few hours of visiting. Unfortunately we would be breaking down camp in the morning and heading home. It was a short, but fun trip, and we are always glad to hang with Dave and Wendy! We will definitely be back to Yosemite and I would love to stay at Bridal Veil Campgrounds again. I think our next visit is likely to be a back-country trip though. The High Sierra Camps most likely (just added that to the Bucket List not long ago). All the joys of a backpack trip without the backpack!


This was my fourth time in Yosemite in 6 years and fifth time overall. Although the place was the same, each visit was unique. This trip was planned early in 2016 as a quick car camping trip. Although our trip in 2011 had been in August, and this was just one month later, we knew that the visit would be much different. In 2011 there had been tremendous amounts of snow, so we had to delay our planned July trip to August to allow the snow to clear from the back country trails we planned to backpack on. With all that snow, the waterfalls were still roaring in August. We knew that 2016 would be very dry as we were coming off not one but four years of drought. We love the waterfalls of Yosemite, but that is not all we love. Yosemite valley is the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited and that was no different in September 2016 than it had been any of my previous visits.

The reason for the timing of our trip was that our friends Wendy and Dave Claman were coming to Southern California to visit with family at Disneyland. We would meet them immediately after their visit to Disneyland and drive together to Yosemite. We had car camped in Yosemite in 2010 and 2016 at a campgrounds well outside the valley, Hodgdon Meadow. In fact the campsite these 2 years were right next to each other. Hodgdon is about 20 miles from the valley, but it is a beautiful campgrounds and was, at least in 2010, a beautiful drive to the valley. By 2016 two major fires had devastated the areas both north and south of Hodgdon Meadow campground. However, we made reservations there again as that was the only campgrounds available when we finally decided to “do it” and worked out the details.

When we arrived in Yosemite’s southern entrance we had to skip seeing the Mariposa Grove of Sequoias again as the grove was closed for renovations designed to protect the huge trees. I’ve seen the other 2 groves of Sequoias in Yosemite the Tuolumne and Merced Groves, but wanted to see the Mariposa Grove one of these days. We planned to head straight to the valley, but decided at the last minute that we would turn toward Glacier Point before heading to the valley.

Glacier Point has some of the most spectacular views anywhere in Yosemite. It is almost surreal all of the spectacular things you can see from there. It is hard to put a scale to all that you are seeing. Of course Half Dome catches your eye right away.
Half Dome Tenaya canyon and Clouds Rest from Glacier Point

To the right of Half Dome you can see well into the distance many of the high Sierra snow-capped peaks.

Take a closer look lower in the same view and you can make out both Vernal and Nevada Falls and parts of the Mist Trail.

Although I’ve been to Glacier Point before, it was usually a quick trip or the start of a hike or backpacking trip. I’ve never taken the time to explore Glacier Point beyond the area right in front of the gift shop. That first area you walk up to from the parking lot is actually the trail head for the short paved trail to Glacier Point. The views don’t change much as you walk toward the point, but there are “things of interest” all along the short trail if you walk back toward the true “Glacier Point”.

The first stop on the short hike is the Geology Hut. It is a small stone structure with awesome views.



If you watch close along the trail you are likely to see some wildlife even though it is a paved trail with tons of people walking on it. I got a good shot of this raven taking a rest.


There are lots of opportunities for pictures when you get to the actual “Glacier Point”, but you’ll have to squeeze in to the crowd.

There are a few places to pose for pictures that are less crowded, like the famous overhang rock just a short walk off the end of the Glacier Point trail.


I found another way to cut the crowd out though…


and as you can see with the “crowd” back in the shot, it was much safer than overhang rock.

Jenny humored me and posed on a flat rock between the upper and lower viewing areas at Glacier Point.


While at Glacier point we decided to see if there was any “space available” at the Bridalveil
Creek campgrounds which is beside the road on the way back down from Glacier Point. That was a very good idea! Since we got there relatively early on a Thursday we were able to choose from quite a few camp sites. We got a nice site near the middle of the campgrounds, but very private. Bridalveil Creek campgrounds is a very nice place with plenty of large trees and some areas of rocks that are pretty cool too. We initially wanted a site by the rocky area as they seemed even more private, but they were also smaller and we had two vehicles to park and planned to set up 2 fairly large tents for the 5 people in our group. But in the end we loved the site we finally selected. There was plenty of room to park, level ground for our tents, and a reasonable walk to the bathrooms.


We set up camp, collected some fire wood for the camp fire, made dinner, and settled in for the night. I love sitting around the campfire sharing memories and making new one. I’ve been friends with Dave for more than 40 years, so there are lots of memories to talk about. One other thing was a bit unexpected about this trip and this campground. It can get really cold at Bridalveil Creek Campgrounds at night in September. The unexpected cold weather cut our campfire time down a bit, but still a great time. We would head down into the valley in the morning, but I’ll do a second post for day two.

Check out this page listing all of my Yosemite National Park posts: Yosemite National Park Posts

We slowed things down for the last couple days in Maui. We spent both days at the beach and tooling around Lahaina. On Friday we spent most of the day at Black Rock Beach. We got very lucky at the small public parking lot near the Sheraton Resort. Just as we pulled in a car was leaving, so we nabbed a terrific parking spot. We set up our chairs on the beach and hit the water. We headed toward the black rock area. There were several people jumping off rocks there. I was not interested in climbing up there but my friend Dave jumped off a couple of times. I had bought a disposable underwater camera, one of the few things that still uses film. I tried to get pictures of him as he hit the water, but the camera was not that sensitive. In fact I had a really hard time telling when it actually took a picture – no click!

Jenny got one picture of me under the water.

Eric diving under the water

The other pictures we took like that did not turn out. We really have grown used to being able to look at the pictures we take immediately on our digital cameras. At some point I would like to get a good underwater enclosure for my digital camera. Until then I’ll have to go back to hoping the pictures I take are good.

We swam over past the end of the protected area of black rock beach to an area with nice coral. The coral was not the best I’ve ever swam above, but it was pretty nice. The waves “fairly gently” moved us in and back out from the shallows near the edge of the water. I say fairly gently because every so often a bigger wave would come in and push quite a bit harder. I backed off regularly to be sure that I would not be pushed into the rocks.

I love gliding over coral. It feels like you are visiting a different world. I’m very comfortable in the water and could spend hours floating in an area like this. Twice while I floated in this area a turtle passed by. Both times I followed behind the turtle as it swam over the coral. My goal was to get a picture of a turtle and the state fish of Hawaii, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a together in a single picture. I didn’t miss my chance to get several shots of the turtles while I waited. I got a couple good shots of the first one as it passed over the coral.



I really like the lighting for this shot of the second turtle.


Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to get the turtle and fish together, but I did get this picture of the humuhumunukunukuapua’a swimming near a bluespine unicorn fish.


After a couple trips into the water and plenty of time on the beach we decided to get drinks and pupus at the pool bar at the Sheraton. I definitely recommend spending some time there the next time you are in Maui!

That night we had dinner at Kimo’s in Lahaina. I really recommend this place for the food, the location, and the service. The view from our table wasn’t too bad either.


On our last full day in Maui we decided to really go casual. We grabbed the boogie boards and drove away from Lahaina along Honoapiilani Highway until a spot grabbed us. This was the unlikely spot we chose to hangout, swim, and boogie board along Honoapiilani Highway.

The beach was a bit rocky, the road a bit close, and the surf a bit shallow, but we had a great time and managed to slow the day down as much as possible. Although it might not look like much from the road we had a place to set up the chairs without walking far, and without fighting a crowded beach. There was one other family near us, but that was it. We were also able to set up under a tree, so we had some shade. The tree also helped frame some nice shots of the beach.



But it was more a day for relaxing than taking pictures. Right before we left unfortunately Jenny cut her foot on a rock under the water. It was a pretty bad cut. The only good thing about it was it didn’t happen on our first day! We got some first aid items on the way back to the condo, fixed her up and enjoyed the rest of the night visiting and doing some last minute souvenir shopping in Lanai.

On the last day we had arranged to meet a local man at the airport to get a turtle he carved for us during the week. We had met him on the street in Lahaina. I was a bit unsure of how well the turtle would turn out but we were very happy with the end result.


We decided to give him a nice tip on top of the agreed upon price.

It’s been a year since we went on this trip (yes I’m way behind on my blog posts). I’m really glad we decided to visit all the different islands rather than just going back to Kauai again. We loved Kauai and will definitely visit there again, but our next visit to Hawaii will most likely be to the big island of Hawaii and Hawaii Valcanoes National Park. It may be a year or two before we can put that on the schedule. Until then we’ll have lot’s of good memories from this trip.

To see all our Tropical Vacation Posts go to our Tropical Vacation Posts page.

We went into 2015 with the intent to have fewer planned vacations.  I started a new job with fewer vacation days to start.  I would have no vacation days early in the year, so we decided to plan a trip to Hawaii later in the year so I could save up a few days.  We decided to go the week of Columbus day to save even more of my vacation time (I only needed 3 days of vacation time).  Our last trip to Hawaii was to Kauai in 2011 and we had a great time.  For that trip we stayed in two different locations and both of them were right on the water.  We wanted to do things a little differently this time.  We decided to look for a condo near Front Street in Lahaina so we could walk to the shops and restaurants in that area.  We would drive to the beaches but be able to relax and enjoy ourselves in Lahaina without worrying about having to drive home.  We found a condo 2 blocks from Front Street.  The condo was in the Aina Nalu a condo property partially managed by Outrigger and partially privately owned condos. It has lots of amenities but the true appeal is the location. We ended up getting one of the privately owned condos in this property that was listed on Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO).  It was a 2 bedroom, 2 bath condo which was perfect for us and the other couple Dave and Wendy who would be going with us.  We’ve had several terrific vacations with them over the past several years.  Although they live in Boise Idaho and we live in San Diego we actually got together 4 times in 2015; once for this trip, once for my daughters wedding in California, once for his daughters wedding in Idaho, and again for New Years eve and a trip to the Rose Bowl on New Years day.

We had a great time in Maui, but there was one unexpected thing that made Hawaii a little less of a paradise on this trip.  Due to the El Niño in the Pacific the temperatures and humidity were much higher than usual.  Most days were in the 80s with humidity in the 90 percent range.  This is not normal, and not what we expected for October in Hawaii.  Even though we only had a 2 block walk to Front Street in Lahaina, by the time we got there we would be dripping sweat.  I’m pretty sure this is the last time I’ll go to Hawaii during an El Niño year.  Our first day/night in Maui we just took it easy.  On the way from the airport we got some groceries to stock up the frig.  After we checked in to the condo, we walked down to Front Street to get lunch.  We decided on a burger place right on the water called… Cheeseburger in Paradise.  The food was delicious, the service good, and the view from our table was amazing.  We checked out some of the shops along front street which are mostly souvenir shops and art galleries and we spent quite a bit of time under the Banyan Tree at a regular art festival. Got a picture of Dave and Wendy under one of the trunks of the tree.

Dave and Wendy under the Banyan Tree Lahaina

After the long flight and the unusual heat we decided to head back to the condo to clean up, catch-up and take it easy. Jenny and I took a nap for a few hours, then we decided to take another walk downtown after dark.  We walked under the Lahaina Court House banyan tree again.  It is an amazing tree, really hard to believe it is only one tree.

Lahaina Banyan Court night view

Then we walked out toward the pier and I got this image of Front Street lit up from the park behind the Lahaina Public Library.

View of Lahaina Front Street at night

As we walked back toward Front Street I noticed a place that was advertising an old favorite snack – Dole Whip (frozen pineapple juice).  I convinced everyone it was worth the calories!  After wondering around Front Street again for a bit, we gave in to the jet lag, and headed back to the condo to get a good night’s sleep.

Dave and Wendy had arrived a couple days earlier than us to do some exploring.  They found a beach they really loved, Kapalua Beach, so on day 2 we decided to check it out.  We stopped at a snorkeling/boogie board rental place on our way out of Lahaina.  The person working there was a wealth of knowledge and gave us some great tips for how to best do things we planned later in the week, like the road to Hana and a bike ride down from Haleakala after seeing the sunrise over the crater.  Her advice really helped us enjoy the rest of the week, and we got good prices on the equipment rentals and the bike ride reservations.

There were areas of rain just about every day we were in Maui, but luckily there also were areas on the island where it was not raining.  On the way to Kapalua Beach we saw some rain clouds, which were a bit concerning, but it was not raining near the beach.  There is a small public parking lot near Kapalua Beach which provides great access to the beach, but you have to get there pretty early to get a spot.  There were no spots available when we got there, but there was still plenty of parking along  Lower Honoapiilani Road.  Even that fills in fairly quickly so the earlier you get there the closer you will be to the beach.  We were only about a quarter mile down the road, so not too bad.

There are public bathrooms on the way down to the beach, and then you go through a short tunnel and on to the beach.  There were quite a few people there already, but still plenty of room to set up our chairs and beach towels (provided by the condo rental) in a nice shady area.  The beach is in a beautiful cove but it is just a short walk to nearby resorts and restaurants.

View of Merrimans Maui from Kapalua Beach

View of resort near Kapalua Beach Maui

Even in the shade it wasn’t long before we were hot and ready to get in the water. My friend Dave was happy to lead the way by putting his mask and fins on in his chair and then walking down to the water. There are few things in life that are funnier than someone walking on the beach in fins. We all had a great laugh. Luckily I caught the whole thing on a video! I decided to share a screen capture of the video rather than the video. Definitely evokes memories of Charlie Chaplain’s walk as the Tramp!

Dave walking into the water at Kapalua Beach with his fins on

Although we enjoyed the beach and swimming, we wanted to try a different snorkeling spot. We were hoping to see more coral, fish, and maybe some turtles. We had heard that Black Rock was a good place to snorkel so decided to head there. Not really knowing the area or the best way to approach the snorkeling area we decided to park at what we thought was a good public parking/access area at Kahekili Beach Park. That would mean hauling our stuff about .7 miles from the parking lot to an area near the Black Rock area. We had stopped at the Honolua Store on the way back to the highway from Kapalua Beach to get some sandwiches and drinks for lunch, so we were set until dinner. The walk on the path and beach took a little more effort than we expected and it was definitely starting to warm up.

Walking from Kahekili Beach Park toward Black Rock

We set up our stuff under a large tree to enjoy the shade again. After swimming for a bit, Dave and I decided to walk over to black rock area to see what snorkeling in that area was like. We headed out along the large black rocks. There was no coral and not really anything of interest. We decided to go out past the end of the rock and go around the corner to see what was out there. We passed an opening in the rocks and continued on for about another 50 yards. The water was getting deeper and deeper to our right and there was really nothing to see. I started to hear the Jaws theme music in my head, and kept looking into the murky deep water to our right expecting to see a shark coming our way at any point. After a brief discussion we decided there was nothing to see this way and decided to head back. On the way out we had not noticed we were being pushed along by a current. We definitely felt the current as we fought it back to the corner as we headed back. Progress was slow, but steady. As we approached the opening in the rocks, Dave decided to climb up on the rock and take a break. We were both a bit tired after fighting the current. As he was getting out he smacked his knee on the rock and after we both rested for a bit he decided to walk back to the beach over the rocks rather than get back into the water. Now it was time for me to look a bit silly. I have very tender feet. It’s actually a bit embarrassing. I was walking so funny it concerned Jenny and Wendy so they came over to see if we had gotten hurt. We were fine, but my pride was a bit bruised. Luckily no one got a video of my walk of shame!

We hung under the shade tree for a little while longer. It looked like a rubber tree or a magnolia based on the leaves, but as I sat there I noticed a bird fly in and land on a branch. The branch had what looked like nuts on it. Just as I mentioned this to Jenny a nut fell off the tree and landed on her. To avoid getting pelleted by more nuts, we decided to pack it up and to head further northwest toward Nakalele Point and the blowhole. We stopped first at an overlook just past the Honolua Bay, a great snorkeling area that we planned to check out later in the week. We drove out on a dirt road to a parking area not far from the main road. This area not only has great views of Honolua Bay…

Honolua Bay

there is also terrific views of a surfing area near Lipoa Point.

Surfers near Lipoa Point Maui

It was a beautiful place. We decided to come back later in the week to snorkel at Honolua Bay then come up to this overlook afterward to have some wine and cheese and enjoy the view.

The Nakalele Point blowhole was next. As we walked down the path we came upon this very welcoming sign.

Warning sign at Nakalele Point blowhole

It may seem a little over dramatic, but there have been people who have died at this place. Jenny and Wendy were in flip flops and decided to not go all the way down. They could see the blowhole, but Dave and I decided to go a little closer. This area is basically an outcropping of old lava. It is surreal rough terrain, but I think it was well worth the climb down.

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But the best view was not of the blowhole it was back toward the coastline from Nakalele Point.

View back toward the coast from Nakalele Point

Jenny and I braved facing into the sun for one more picture before we headed back toward Lahaina.

Eric and Jenny near Nakalele Point Maui

When we got back to Lahaina, it was very close to sunset. We wanted to see it while we ate, so rather than going back to condo to clean up change we just looked for parking on Front Street. The parking gods must have been on our side because we came on a parking spot only a couple blocks from the restaurant we had decided to eat at – Bubba Gumps.

We definitely had a great view from our table of the sun setting behind the island of Lanai.

Another view from our table at Bubba Gumps Lahaina Maui

View from our table at Bubba Gumps Lahaina Maui

As we ate dinner we decided to do the Road to Hana the next morning.  We planned to hike the Pipiwai Trail to Waimoku Falls at the end of the Road to Hana.  The very helpful lady at the equipment rental business had recommended that if we wanted to do this hike we should leave early and drive all the way to the end of the Road to Hana without stopping, then do any stops we wanted to do on the way back.  So that was our plan at the end of our first full day in Maui.  We were tired, satisfied that we had “stuffed” enough fun into this day, so after dinner we headed home to get some sleep so we could get up early for the Road to Hana!

To see all our Tropical Vacation Posts go to our Tropical Vacation Posts page.

The summer of 2015 is over. This week we had rain on more than one day, and a night that got down to 60 degrees. I’m also leaving the house for work while it is still dark out! Some times it is hard to tell in San Diego when the summer ends. We have faux summer days throughout most of our winter, and often these are sunnier and warmer than the days in June and July. The summer of 2015 was a hot one though. We had record heat, but also a few days of rain which is rare, but not unheard of during a summer with an El Nino.

This year was also different for us than the last few years because we intentionally planned fewer major things to do. Over the last couple years we’ve had to turn down opportunities to do things with friends and family because we were over booked. We wanted to slow down a bit and make more room for last-minute opportunities. That worked out pretty well. I would say we still rarely had a free weekend to just hangout and we spent a lot more time doing things with friends and family. Although we are likely to plan more next year, but we’ll be careful to include friends and family and to leave some time open.

At the beginning of May I kicked off the summer by leaving San Diego for the colder climate of Denmark. It was a work trip and unlike the last time I went to Denmark for work, this trip was all work. We got to Denmark, had a quick Breakfast in Nyhavn in Copenhagen…

Breakfast in Nyhavn May 2015

and then headed for the countryside and our work assignment. On our last day in Denmark we packed up at the hotel at 4 am and headed straight to the airport. We did get to see the sun coming up through the windmills as we drove through the countryside.

Sun coming up through the windmills Denmark May 2015

The work was good, and there were a lot of work related social events to keep it interesting, but I did not take advantage of “being there” by spending some extra personal time checking out new places.  Maybe next time.

The summer was in full swing in San Diego when I got back. We had a couple of college graduations in May, my oldest daughter, Monica, and her fiancée, Ricky. In fact they had a very busy summer and we were glad we left time in our schedule to hang out with them. They graduated in May, moved to San Diego from Murrieta in June, and got married in July!

Although we love live music, we cut back on the planned concerts too. However, Memorial Day weekend had a couple of big ones we didn’t want to miss. Three of my favorite acts played together at Sleep Train Amphitheater in Chula Vista on Saturday, Matt Nathanson, The Fray, and Train. Here are a few of my favorite pictures from Saturday night.

Matt Nathanson getting the audience involved Chula Vista May 2015

Matt Nathanson getting the audience involved Chula Vista May 2015

The Fray - You Found Me - Chula Vista CA

The Fray – You Found Me – Chula Vista CA

Pat from Train explaining how she drowned in a hot tub

Pat from Train explaining how she drowned in a hot tub

On Sunday night, The Rolling Stones, one of my wife Jenny’s favorite bands played at PetCo Park. We went with friends complete with a hotel room, warmup party, and after party! PetCo is a great venue and the bands energy level was amazing.

View of the stage and downtown San Diego Rolling Stones May 2015

View of the stage and downtown San Diego Rolling Stones May 2015

Mick Jagger holding still for a picture finally

Mick Jagger holding still for a picture finally

I did make some progress around the house this summer. I painted the Master Bedroom, Master Bathroom, upstairs guest bathroom and the laundry room. As usual picking the colors was the hardest part of this project. We went with a blue in the Master Bedroom, kind of a walk on the wild side for us, but we like the way it turned out. The color in the Master Bathroom was supposed to be a variation of sea-foam green. It actually turned out looking different, but Jenny liked it so much she let me use the same color in the guest bathroom and laundry room! I also replaced some very restrictive canned light fixtures throughout the house. They required a push in 4 pin fluorescent bulb that was hard to find, not that efficient, costly, and they only lasted about 2 years. I replaced the original fixtures with standard screw in fixtures and then put in LED bulbs. I shouldn’t have to worry about those bulbs again before we move to the old folks home!

The biggest improvement to the house this year was the installation of rooftop solar. I expected that we would save money in the long run, but with the record heat this summer we saved a ton of money this year alone. Last summer during a hot month we ran our AC for 2 weeks in a row one month and the bill was about $280 over normal. This summer we ran our AC almost every day and our electric bill was $10-$20 extra a month.

In June, we had a great time with family and friends in Yosemite. I still have one more post to do for that trip (really behind on the blog posts again this year). I really don’t know where June went. We didn’t have a lot on the calendar, but it flew by.

July was the busiest month of the summer. We started off July by celebrating our 3rd anniversary. We saw John Butler Trio at Humphreys in San Diego. We had been to Humphreys before but it was not one of our favorite venues. However, this time was different. We got a room, so we were not rushing around, and the concert was general admission. The previous concert we saw was seated and I’m not a fan of the seating they put in. General Admission was perfect! We got there early and got a place right in front of the stage. John Butler can do things with a guitar that I’ve never heard before. We love his songs Pick Apart and Better Things.

John Butler Trio Humphreys By the Sea July 2015

In the middle of the month we saw our last Green Flash Concert at the Birch Aquarium. We had season tickets to this concert series 4 years in a row, but decided to only go to one this year. I wasn’t a fan of the main act, Bad Suns, but the opening act Zella Day was awesome. She has a spectacular voice and sang well.

Zella Day Greenflash Concert Birch Aquarium July 2015

I’m not sure this will be our last Green Flash concert ever, but the radio station, KPRI, that has sponsored this show for the last 10 years closed down the other day. I just happened to be listening to the station when one of the owners came on the air with no warning and delivered the news that they would go off the air immediately. I’ll definitely miss the station, the private listener concerts, the Green Flash concerts and the people I had listened to since moving to San Diego. There aren’t a lot of locally owned radio station left. Even though they had made some changes recently, I was adjusting and wish I could have them to listen to next summer.

My daughter’s wedding was at the end of July. We had lots of family and friends in town before, during, and after the wedding. I enjoyed visiting with them and doing some touristy things around San Diego more than anything else we did all summer. It was a beautiful ceremony, and my daughter was a lovely bride. I’ll never stop worrying about any of my kids, but she and Ricky are on a very good path! Here are some of the summer fun things we did in San Diego with family and friends.

Tide pools at Point Loma

Tide pools at Point Loma

Taking the Coronado ferry just before sunset

Taking the Coronado ferry just before sunset

A little kiss on the Midway

A little kiss on the Midway – Unconditional Surrender!

Horse Races at Del Mar

Horse Races at Del Mar

Heading out to watch some Blue Whales

Heading out to watch some Blue Whales

And a few of the wedding.

Thoughtful and touching gifts when we checked in to our hotel room

Thoughtful and touching gifts when we checked in to our hotel room

Walking my daughter down the aisle

Walking my daughter down the aisle

A first dance as husband and wife

A first dance as husband and wife

In August we got to do it all over again when my best friend’s daughter got married in Idaho. We love camping, fishing, and rafting in Idaho. I’ll add attending weddings to that list. We had a great time and I saw some of Dave’s family that I had not seen in a while. We stayed a couple of nights in a cabin north of Boise and the wedding was at a golf course in a small town nearby. I wish we could have stayed longer!

September was another month that seemed to fly by. I had some work travel and a couple of really busy work weeks here in San Diego but we also fit in seeing Sam Smith, Death Cab for Cutie (at our favorite San Diego venue, SDSU Open Air Theater), a couple of bear festivals, and the first annual family fantasy football league and draft party. I love football, but I’m definitely relying on beginner’s luck for this first time doing a fantasy league.

The summer of 2015 was a summer to enjoy family and friends, enjoy the new additions to our family, make lasting memories that will last a lifetime, and to hold on to the good memories of those who weren’t able to share this summer with us. I hope you had a great summer this year too!

After the very slow lazy day floating down the Merced through Yosemite Valley, we were ready for a little more exertion on day 3 of our car camping trip to Yosemite. Our original plan was for some of the group to hike to the top of vernal while the more ambitious folks hiked to Half Dome from the valley floor. I hike to the top of Half Dome in 2011 from Little Yosemite Valley, but wanted to do it the more traditional and more difficult route all the way from the valley floor. In 2011 we had back country permits and backpacked from Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley the day before hiking to Half Dome. The good thing about getting back country permits is that you automatically can request permits for Half Dome. If you want to go from the valley floor you have to enter the seasonal and/or daily lottery for permits. We had done both, but unfortunately we did not get selected in either lottery. Hiking the Mist Trail and having lunch above Vernal Falls is not a bad consolation prize.

Our group got separated at the beginning of the trail, into 2 or 3 smaller groups. We had driven separately and some of us took the shuttle and others walked from the parking lot at Curry Village to the trailhead. We had agreed to meetup a short distance up the trail. Our group was pretty diverse when it came to conditioning and even desire to do a tough hike. I was just glad we all made it at least to the rally point. It was a fairly hot day, and the first part of the trail, even though it is paved, is pretty steep. We were hoping to get everyone to at least the bridge below Vernal Falls, but a couple of people decided today was not the day to do that. A few people took off quick, a few went at a moderate pace (me included) but the biggest group hung together at a slow but steady pace. The trail is fairly level until you get to the High Sierra Loop Trail sign not too far from the road. I like to get pictures of this so I don’t have to look up the distance that I hiked!

Sean by the High Sierra Loop Trail sign

The planned hike to the top of Vernal Falls on the Mist Trail and back down on the John Muir Trail would be about 4.5 miles, however, a few of us would go back down the Mist Trail and a few would end up doing several extra miles. Once you get past the sign and start up the fairly steep pave trail, you start to see why this is one of the most popular trails in Yosemite. There are trees and boulders along most of the trail.

Jenny heads up the paved part of the trail to Vernal Falls

And the Merced can be heard and sometime seen tumbling toward the Valley as you climb the trail.

The Merced tumbling toward the Valley beside the Mist Trail

Although the trail is steep, it is really not far to the bridge below Vernal Falls.

The bridge below Vernal Falls just ahead

The views here are terrific and there is fresh water to fill your water containers. If you have friends who aren’t sure they want to sign up for a big hike, get them to sign up to at least hike to this bridge it is only .8 miles from the start of the trail. The best part of this point in the hike is you can see just enough of the falls to entice them to go further!

View of Vernal Falls with Sentinal Dome behind from the bridge

Just get them this far, take a snack break, then point out that the views closer to the falls are spectacular and it really isn’t that much farther to get up close.

Note: I noticed after I got home that all 500+ pictures I took with my Nikon camera had a smudge on the left hand side of the photo. For many of the pictures in the posts for this trip I was able to crop out the blur/smudge. I couldn’t bring myself to crop out Sentinel Dome in the above picture. Unfortunately several pictures that could have been awesome were completely ruined. Lesson learned: clean the camera lens daily!  Note2: The camera lens was actually damaged not smudged but I would not realize it until after our trip to Maui 4 months later.

We took a break to refill our water bladders, use the restroom, and have a snack. As usual, anywhere with food, there will be squirrels waiting for a chance to nab some of your food!

Squirrel near the bridge below Vernal falls nabs some accidentally dropped snack

The trail as you leave the bridge area on the way toward Vernal Falls is not overly steep, runs right beside the Merced, and is shaded at first.

Mist Trail Yosemite just above the bridge toward Vernal Falls

While you’re still in the shade you will pass a sign that marks the point that the John Muir Trail splits off. We planned to come back on this trail from the top of Vernal Falls for a couple of reasons. First that trail is more gentle (although longer) and easier on the knees on the way down. Second, there are some terrific views of the falls from the trail that connects the Mist Trail to the John Muir Trail a short distance above Vernal Falls.

Eventually the shade goes away and the trail turns into granite stairs that lead you up and past Vernal Falls.

Granite stairs below Vernal Falls on the Mist Trail Yosemite

This is my favorite part of the trail and the reason this trail is called the “Mist” Trail. When the falls are going strong there is a constant mist everywhere along this part of the trail. I’ve been on this trail a couple of times before, both times it was later in the summer, but this year the falls had the least amount of water I’d seen. Still not too bad, just less mist.

Vernal Falls Yosemite

I frequently forget to look back when I’m hiking uphill, especially when there is something as spectacular as Vernal Falls in front of you. We weren’t planning to come back down this trail, so I looked back several times on this stretch of the trail. I’m glad I did. You can see the river far below and across the valley Glacier Point and the start of the Panorama Trail.

View back down the Mist Trail on the stairs as you approach Vernal Falls

As you approach Vernal Falls, the views of the falls get even more spectacular. There is a spot before you turn to go up even more steps that is perfect for getting pictures. I took this picture of Sean while we waited for the rest of the group at that point.

Sean Rial hiking to the top of Vernal Falls 2015

Sean took this picture of me and Jenny at the same spot.

Jenny and Eric Rial Vernal Falls 2015

Because it had been such a dry winter and spring, the falls were the lowest I had ever seen them. I know they go even lower than this, but I wanted to feel more of the mist. We noticed at one point that a lot of people were taking a side trail to get closer to the falls. I probably would not have done it if the falls were heavier, but with less water/mist, we decided to check it out.

Trail leading to rocks just below Vernal Falls

This turned out to be my favorite part of the hike. It was a very cool experience!

Going off trail at Vernal Falls Yosemite

When we headed back to the main trail, there was a Ranger there discouraging people from leaving the main trail. I’m glad we got there before she did and experienced the falls up close.

Of course the big payoff with getting this close is to get in the shot. That is a little easier said than done. The lighting is not great, the angle to get the falls and people in is tough, and the lens of your camera will get wet. It was easier to do this with the camera on my phone, than my other camera, so we did get one good shot.

Jenny, Sean, and Eric Rial on the rocks above the pool at Vernal Falls Yosemite

After cooling off in the mist of Vernal Falls we were ready to finish the climb to the top of the falls. One of the last good shots I got of Vernal is through the trees, so you can’t see the top of the falls, but it is a good view of the pool below the falls.

Vernal Falls through the trees near the top

I don’t have any good pictures of the last part of the trail to the top of Vernal Falls, so I’ll just describe it. The trail curves to the left toward the falls and as it nears the top it narrows. The last 30-40 yards of the climb to the top are on a very narrow trail carved into the side of the granite wall. Luckily there is a pipe handrail to hold on to. Even with that if you have a fear of heights this is unlikely to be enjoyable. Once you get to the top, you will come to a large open granite slab that leads down to a point right above Vernal Falls.

Granite slab above Vernal Falls

This area is a good place for a group picture, but you may have to get in the queue. If you go to the point closest to the falls, you can get a great shot of the falls from the top by holding your camera out past the railing.

View of Vernal Falls from above

Some of our group was way ahead of the rest, had already finished their lunch and decided to head straight back down the Mist Trail. The rest of us headed upriver a ways to find a shady spot for lunch. We decided on a spot next to a part of the river that slides down a granite shoot into a pool. It’s not generally safe to get in the river above the falls, but if I had swim trunks with me I might have tried this slide out.

Slide and pool a ways above Vernal Falls

We ate our lunch on a rocky spot in the shade with a good view of this slide.

We had lunch in the shade above Vernal Falls

We were planning to cut across above Vernal Falls to the John Muir trail after lunch. This adds quite a bit more climb and about another 1.5 miles to the hike, but it is a much gentler descent and there are some terrific views of Vernal Falls from above. I ended up not going this way, but most of our group did. Here’s a shot of Vernal Falls that I took in 2011 from that trail.

View of Vernal Falls from the trail connecting John Muir Trail to the Mist Trail

This time I was feeling just a little more ambitious. We had been planning to hike to Half Dome, so I was feeling like I want more than to go just to the top of Vernal Falls. While we were eating lunch in the shade I decided to ask my son if he felt like hiking further up. He was in, and so was my wife’s cousin Charles. So after lunch the three of us headed the rest of the way up the Mist Trail to the top of Nevada Falls.

Since we would be going a couple of miles further than the rest of the group we decided to take off as soon as we were done eating. The Mist Trail and the trail toward the John Muir Trail split on a sloped granite slab. Both of them are a little hard to follow at that point. The Mist Trail heads down slope toward a bridge that crosses the Merced. I got this shot of the river as we crossed the bridge.

Bridge crossing the Merced above Vernal Falls

I took this picture from the other side of the bridge looking back on the trail we had just walked on.

View of the Merced tumbling down toward Vernal Falls from the bridge crossing the river above Vernal Falls

There are a lot fewer people who continue up the Mist Trail from this point, although we definitely weren’t alone. The trail starts out fairly gentle with some shade.

Sean hiking up the Mist Trail just past the bridge above Vernal Falls

Although we wanted to go up the trail quickly, it is fairly steep and the top part of the trail is mostly in the sun, so we took a couple breaks on the way up. On one of these breaks I decided to go off trail for a little bit to get this shot of Nevada Falls head on.

Went off trail to get this blurry shot of Nevada Falls

Unfortunately, the top of the picture turned out to be in the smudged part of the lens. it was the best picture I got of Nevada Falls from this angle so I decided to include it anyway.

We enjoyed the shade as long as we could, and this part of the trail was actually shadier than I remembered.

Last section of full shade on the way to the top of Nevada Falls on the Mist Trail

Although the views of Nevada Falls from the trail were “from the side”, it was still pretty inspiring.

Nevada Falls from the side through the trees from the Mist Trail

I have to admit that Vernal Falls is my favorite though! Toward the top of the trail the shade ends.

Last good view of Nevada Falls near the top of the Mist Trail

The trail at this point is just an organized pile of rocks.

The Mist trail is an organized pile of rocks near the top of the Mist Trail

Then you turn a corner and you are at the top. We took a break at the top to fill our water bladders and enjoy the view. Here are a few shots I took while we hung out.

View of the Merced River from the bridge above Nevada Falls

View of the Merced River from the bridge above Nevada Falls

View toward the top of Nevada Falls from the bridge above the falls

View toward the top of Nevada Falls from the bridge above the falls

Sean taking a break beside the Merced above Nevada Falls

Sean taking a break beside the Merced above Nevada Falls

View of the Merced approaching the bridge above Nevada Falls

View of the Merced approaching the bridge above Nevada Falls

Sean and Eric Rial above Nevada Falls

Sean and me above Nevada Falls

We didn’t hang out long though as we didn’t want the rest of the group to have to wait for us at the bottom. To take the John Muir Trail down to the valley you have to head toward Glacier Point for just a bit. The first part of the trail is a gentle climb…

Hike up John Muir and Panorama Trail from Nevada Falls

then it levels off…

Sean hike along the John Muir and Panorama Trail

before the John Muir trail branches off hugs the side of the wall for a ways. This is one of my favorite parts of this trail. There is a granite block wall on the outside of the trail and some great views of Nevada Falls and Sentinel Dome.

Stone wall along the John Muir trail with a view of Nevada Falls

The trail beyond that point heads downward, but has switchbacks that take you back toward Nevada Falls and more great views as you descend.

Nevada Falls and Sentinal Dome from a switchback on the John Muir Trail

The last good view of Nevada Falls is can be seen if you look along the trail that heads back toward Vernal Falls from the John Muir Trail. If you don’t look back you’ll miss it.

View of Nevada Falls and Sentinal Dome from John Muir trail at the branch with the trail back to Vernal Falls

We caught up the group a little further down the John Muir trail in a shady set of switchbacks.

Shady section of the John Muir trail descending toward Yosemite Valley

Just a little further down the trail we came to the merge with the Mist Trail.

John Muir trail approaching the juntion with the Mist Trail

After a glance at the Yosemite Trail sign at the junction of the two trails…

Yosemite Trail sign at the Junction of the Mist and John Muir trails below Vernal Falls

and a quick thought about future trips and adventures deeper into Yosemite, we turned to head back down the way we had come up from that point.

I enjoyed the entire trip to Yosemite, every minute of it, but this day was my favorite! I love hiking this trail. I guess I’m a sucker for waterfalls, and this hike as two spectacular falls just a couple of miles apart.

Back at camp it was Charles turn to provide dinner. He brought carnitas. A couple of carnitas fajitas plus a cold beer was the perfect end to a perfect day!

Having a couple fajitas for dinner at our campsite in Hodgdon Meadow Yosemite

The next day would be our last full day in Yosemite. We decided to do something completely different… but I’ll put that in another post!

Check out this page listing all of my Yosemite National Park posts: Yosemite National Park Posts

We got all settled in to our campsite in Hodgdon Meadows the day before, and decided to rent a raft to float down the Merced on our first full day in Yosemite.  The Merced River winds lazily back and forth along the valley floor.  It’s a relaxing way to spend a few hours and take in a ton of great views along the way. In 2010 we brought our own raft. Although we saved some money on the ride, because we rafted on one of the busiest days of the year, July 4th, the logistics of two cars and moving the raft were not really worth the savings. This time we rented a raft. They charge per person, not per raft, so don’t feel the need to crowd into one raft. We had 2-4 people per raft, which worked just fine.

Carrying the raft to the launch point is the most work you’ll do for the next few hours. Once you get to the river, one of the employees for the raft rental company will give you a hand launching the raft. Randy, Ellen, Brian, and Haley were in the first boat.

The Smiths getting started on the Merced Float

Stacy, Katie, and Candice were next and then we put our boat in. There are no rapids, no big hazards, and very little shade on this float. Be ready to relax and put on plenty of sunscreen!

Sean and Jenny Rial at the start of the Merced River Float Yosemite Valley

John and Brad were in the last boat into the water. The view of Half Dome behind them is just a bonus!

John and Brad Atwell floating the Merced River in Yosemite Valley

Actually there are views of either Half Dome or Yosemite Falls at different points all along the float. Even though it was a busy weekend in Yosemite, the river wasn’t overly crowded. We got started about 10:30 AM and finished before 1:00 PM. I snapped one more picture of Half Dome just a little ways from the launch point.

View of Half Dome near the start of the Merced River float

Due to a lack of snow and an extended drought in California, the river was very low for this early in the year. That was another good reason not to overload the boats.

Sean in the front of the raft very shallow water near the start of the Merced River float

We got our first glimpse of Upper Yosemite Falls about 30 minutes into the float.

Our first glimpses of Yosemite Falls after floating about 30 minutes

Don’t pass up a good picture of the falls, but don’t worry about missing them either. The river meanders quite a bit and just when you think you have passed seeing them, there they are again!

Sean got plenty of practice rowing/steering the raft.

Sean Rial paddling on the Merced in Yosemite Valley

And I got lots of rest!

Stretching out on the Merced River float with Yosemite Falls behind us

We pulled over lunch around 11 at a beach by House Keeping Camp. This place was perfect for lunch. There was a nice beach, some shade, and bathrooms! We ate lunch under some interesting looking trees.

We ate lunch under these trees near House Keeping Camp

And we had a great view of Yosemite Falls.

Upper Yosemite Falls viewed from Merced River about 30 minites into the float while we ate lunch

After lunch as we pulled away from the beach I got another view of Half Dome and some people enjoying the beach, the river, and even one guy sleeping in the raft.

View of Half Dome about an hour into the Merced River Float

Except for the one shady stretch of river…

One of the few shady spots on the Merced River float Yosemite Valley

Most of the rest of the float was about the same. Lots of smiles to go around.

Lewises and Candice floating along the Merced in Yosemite Valley

Plenty of relaxing and the beautiful Yosemite Valley all around. At the end of the float the rental company loaded the raft onto a truck we got on a bus, and headed back to our cars. This is definitely the way to do this! After rafting we stopped at Yosemite Village to call to check on the daily Half Dome Hike permit lottery. Not our lucky day. Since we would not be hiking to the top of Half Dome, we decided to stick together as a group again, but to be a little more ambitious and hike to the top of Vernal Falls. I’ll add another post soon to share our hike and the rest of our visit to Yosemite.

Here are some more pictures from this awesome river!

Jenny and Sean on the Merced Float with another Half Dome view

Jenny and Sean near the start of the Merced Float with another Half Dome view

Eric Rial floating the Merced River Yosemite Valley

Me taking it easy on the Merced River Yosemite Valley

View of Half Dome and a bridge over the Merced 90 minutes into the Merced River Float
View of Half Dome about 2 hours into the Merced River Float

An odd expression on my face and a great view of Yosemite Falls about 2 hours into the float

An odd expression on my face and a great view of Yosemite Falls about 2 hours into the float

Check out this page listing all of my Yosemite National Park posts: Yosemite National Park Posts

A trip to Yosemite is never disappointing! Some trips might be disappointing if they don’t go according to plan, but Yosemite is different, it is just too much of a special place to ever be disappointing. We had hoped to hike to Half Dome from the valley as part of this trip, but we didn’t get permits as part of the seasonal lottery or as part of daily lotteries while we were in Yosemite, but this just freed us up to do other things, with everyone in our group. We had also originally planned this as a chance to get our kids all together for a vacation, camping seemed like a good way to be flexible and low-cost. However, that didn’t work out either. When you have a big family it is hard to plan a group vacation. Last year the local beach staycation worked like a charm. All our kids made it to the condo we rented to stay for at least one night. This year college, work, moving, babies, and pending marriages (yeah!) made it hard for our kids to commit and in the end none of them could make it. We’re not giving up on a trip like that, it just didn’t happen this year. However, we had opened the trip up to other family and friends and we had quite a large group (12) squeezed into two of our 3 reserved campsites, and our food and coolers spilled into the bear locker of the 3rd campsite.

We started our drive to Yosemite in a caravan from San Diego with Jenny’s good friend Stacy, her daughter Katie and Katie’s friend Cadence on the 20th of June and stayed in a hotel in Fresno for the night. This made it possible to get to Yosemite fairly early in the day on the 21st. We came into the park from the south, near the Mariposa grove of Sequoia. I’ve never been to this grove of Sequoia, but now that they closed the parking lot and bus people from Wawona, I’m not sure when I will ever see them. It is very inconvenient. Especially when there are so many other things to see and do. Maybe if we visit in the winter when it is less busy we’ll be able to see them.

We made the obligatory stop at Tunnel View. I love seeing Yosemite Valley from here. I’m hoping one day I’ll be here right after a rain when the air is clear and crisp. Even with a little haze this view is inspiring!
Yosemite Valley from the Tunnel View

We had plenty of time so we decided to drive through the valley and spend a little time there before heading to our campsite in Hodgdon Meadows. Our first stop was at Bridal Veil falls. This falls is visible from tunnel view and we could tell that it was barely flowing. This is one of the first falls to dry up in the summer. With the lack of snow in the mountains we were lucky there was any flow at all in June. The parking lot was completely full with a line of cars waiting for spots, but we managed to get a couple of spots after only waiting about 15 minutes. This was my first time to actually walk up to see Bridal Veil falls closer. The trail is short, not too steep, and shady. The falls were a bit of a disappointment… really more of a mist that a falls at this point. Also the sun was just above the falls from the view-point so it was hard to get a picture. I put my hand over the lens to prevent glare on the lens. I thought I would be able to crop my finger out later, but decided to keep all of the view including my hand in this photo.

Bridal Veils Falls

I’ll definitely have to revisit these falls later in the evening when the sun is in a better place and at a time of the year when there is more water flowing!

We headed over to Curry Village when we got back to our cars. The traffic was OK, but the valley was very busy. Luckily there is a large parking lot by Curry Village. We found parking with only one loop through the lot. The Curry Village area is in a beautiful part of the park with views of the nearby granite walls and of the Half Dome.

Half Dome viewed from Curry Village

It took a few minutes to find the ice cream parlor. It is kind of tucked in around a corner in the main cafeteria. It was worth the wait! We looked around the gift shop before heading to camp to set up. We had reservations at a campground outside the valley. I stayed in the same campground, Hodgdon Meadows, during my trip to Yosemite in July of 2010. In fact 2 of our 3 campsites were right next to the site we stayed in 2010. Although that campsite, site 22, is on a slope, there is large level area on the lower level of the campsite.

Hodgdon Meadows site 22

I really enjoyed Hodgdon Meadow in 2010 and it was good again this time, but there were a couple of things. First there was a major fire, the Rim Fire, in the North Part of Yosemite in 2013 that damaged large swaths of the forest on the road between Hodgdon Meadows and the valley. Second, I had not noticed the slope of the campsites as much in 2010. There are some level sites in the middle of the campgrounds, but on the outer edge where we wanted to be, many of the sites are on slopes. On one of our two campsites that we had for the whole week we were barely able to set up one small tent. Even that tent was not on a very level spot. Luckily the other site was closer to the bottom of the slope, so we spread out and were able to set up 3 fairly large tents on this campsite.

Hodgdon Meadows campsite 2015

A couple of months before this trip the inflatable mattress we normally used sprung a leak. I had repaired it, and it seemed to hold air fairly well, but I decided to bring some backups. As I was going through our combined camping gear, I found that my wife had a double height queen sized mattress. It seemed to be a good quality mattress, so I decided to use that and keep the repaired mattress as the backup. We had a couple of flannel lined sleeping bags zipped together for bedding, but I also like to put a fitted sheet on the mattress for extra comfort when car camping. I was setting up my son’s bed when my wife started laughing. Apparently I had brought a dust ruffle instead of a fitted sheet! On the double height mattress, it made our setup very homey! When Jenny showed it to our sister-in-law Ellen, she had a good laugh too and asked where our chandelier was!

We enjoyed a very easy dinner of sloppy joes on the first night and had a great fire. One of the best parts of camping for me is sitting around the campfire, having a few adult beverages, and sharing the experience with friends and family. At bed time we got a less than happy surprise. The double height mattress was not as firm as when we set it up. We were pretty tired though, so we decided that it must be “because it was colder” than when we set it up. So we climbed in and were asleep in minutes. About 2 hours later we woke up to an even worse situation. The mattress definitely had a slow leak. With a normal air mattress when you have a slow leak you slowly get to the point where you feel the ground. With the double height mattress, we were still well above the ground, but we had both slid toward the middle of the mattress. We were in a deep rut/crevasse in the center of the mattress and completely squished together! It was a very uncomfortable situation – definitely not going to work! It was the middle of the night, but I decided to get out the spare mattress so we could sleep through the rest of the night.

In the morning while getting coffee going I notice a pair of what looked like red-headed woodpeckers on the trees near our campsite. I grabbed my camera and followed them around until I was able to get this shot.

A pair of Acorn Woodpeckers

Once we got home I did a little research to try to identify the birds. My best guess is that they are Acorn Woodpeckers, which are found in that area.  We decided as a group to float down the Merced on our first full day together. This is the second time I’ve rafted (floated) down the Merced.  The views are amazing and I got tons of pictures.  I’ll put the Merced float in my next post in this series.

You can also check out this page listing all of my Yosemite National Park posts: Yosemite National Park Posts

There are some people who blame many of the “special” days in the year on the card manufacturers. Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and of course Father’s Day. I’ve never believed this theory or that these days are “just another day”. We mark these days and others as times to make sure that our family, friends, and loved ones know that they are special to us. Yes, Hallmark, FTD, and 1-800-Flowers love these days for other reasons, but that is no reason to dismiss their importance or miss an opportunity to let some one that matters to you know just how much.

This year I’ve been thinking a lot about my Father, Joseph Francis Rial. I spent much of my life living far away from him and the rest of my family. I moved away from Iowa in 1981 when I joined the Marine Corps. I lived in Minnesota from 1986-1989 while recruiting, but most of the time I’ve been much further away. When you live so far away from family you miss out on a lot of things that others take for granted. My relationship with my Dad was not a bad relationship but we rarely talked when I wasn’t visiting him. I hate to admit it, but I’m not sure if I have been home on Father’s Day since I moved away. I’m sure I called a few times, but my Dad and I rarely talked on the phone. Unfortunately I won’t be able to call him or visit this year, he passed away last Christmas Eve.

My Dad lived a full 81 years. He enjoyed his life, but had an unhealthy lifestyle. His health declined fairly rapidly over the last couple years, but regardless of his lifestyle, he had been very healthy for much of his life. I give credit to the fact that he worked hard most of his life.  He didn’t have to worry about going to the gym or going on walks, he worked hard instead of working out hard.  So many of us these days sit at desks all day and have to simulate hard work in the evenings.

We celebrated his 80th birthday with him in September 2013. By then his age and life style (heavy drinking) had taken a toll on him. He spent most of his time on a scooter. Although his body was weak at that time, his mind was clear. Clear at least in some ways. At times he was an irrational and exceptionally grumpy old man, but that was not due to a lack of clarity, it was just part of who he was. Thankfully at his birthday party he just relaxed and enjoyed the day with his family.

Joe Rial and kids on his 80th Birthday

I spent some “alone” time with him in his apartment, the week we were in Iowa for his Birthday. Although he spent most of his time in a chair or on his scooter, he did get up and walk a couple times while I was there. He was very shaky, but I thought it was good that he was not sitting all the time. Unfortunately, a few months later he fell, likely during one of these “up and about” moments. When they found him a day or two later he was still on the floor. He was confused and unsure of where he was. He never recovered from that fall. I visited the next September, while I was home to celebrate my Mom’s 75th birthday, and he didn’t recognize me. He did still speak, some of it was English but some wasn’t, some of it made sense and not all of it.   Although it would have been easy to say things like, “he’s already gone”, in fact I did say that more than once, I could still see parts of my Dad when I was with him. His smile, his personality… the good and the bad, and the intensity of his gaze. It was very difficult seeing him, recognizing some of him, but realizing he was not all there.

We buried Dad on a very cold December day in the Catholic Cemetery near his parents graves. The funeral was difficult, but upbeat. For me the remembrances we shared had been events that had all passed much too quickly. When you live so far from those you love, looking back can be tough. Nearly every time you see them they are a year older or more. If I add it up I probably only spent a few months of time with my Dad the last 25 years of his life.

Although it we had not spent much time together in the last couple decades, I have a very vivid and long memory. I remember things my Dad said and did from about the age of three. He was a husband…

Young Mom and Dad

a father…

Mom Dad and Erin

of five eventually, but just me and my older sister Erin to begin with. Mom and Dad look great in this one, but I obviously liked to eat!

Mom Dad Me and Erin

I remember the family times when I was young. Watching Lawrence Welk, or Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

Dad with me and Erin

and road trips: Colorado, Texas, Fort Wayne Indiana, and South Dakota.

Dad Kathleen Erin and Me at Custers Grave

Unfortunately, many of my memories of my Dad, especially in my early teens, are not good. His drinking took over his life, and set him on a course that would lead to a lot of terrible things and eventually my parent’s divorce. For much of that time he was not a nice guy, not a responsible person, and not a good Dad. Those experiences would strain our relationship for the rest of his life. He never remarried, lived most of the rest of his life alone, but he did stay connected to us. If I had lived nearby we may have had a closer, more connected relationship as I got older. We definitely had some good conversations over the years. Most of those were sitting on a bar stool next to him at his favorite drinking hole, but that was just the way it was with my Dad. Although he was able to quit smoking cold turkey in his 60’s, he never was able to shake the hold alcohol had on him.

Regardless of his faults I loved my Dad.  He worked hard physical jobs all his life. He helped others without a second thought about it. He as a mechanic, machinist, electrician, welder, plant maintenance man, and good at all those things! He was very smart, but left school in the 8th grade. Although he struggled with reading/writing, he read the things he needed to for work and read about the things he enjoyed. Popular Science and Popular Mechanics were a couple of his favorite things to read. There was always a warm hand written note in cards he would send for the holidays.

I wish I could have a long talk with him this weekend on Father’s Day. It wouldn’t bother me at all to sit on a bar stool in his current favorite place if that’s what it took! So remember this Father’s Day – it’s not just another day!

Here are a few more pictures of my Dad…

Dad and me 1964

Dad and me 1964

Dad and Kirsten on a recliner mid 1990s

Dad and Kirsten on a recliner mid 1990s

Dad and Sean playing

Dad playing with my youngest son Sean in the mid nineties.

It was hard to leave San Francisco. We had other things we wanted to do, but it was time to move to Lake Tahoe. We would be meeting other friends and stopping by Reno to get Dave and Wendy’s vehicle and to check out the car Dave would be showing at the car show. We had spent a few days in Lake Tahoe around the same time in 2009, so we could go into Reno for the Hot August Nights car show. We had a great time in both Tahoe, and Reno last time, and the balance between them had seemed about right, but this time with a car to show, I was concerned we were be in Reno more often, even though we would be staying in Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe has a lot more to offer from my perspective, but the Hot August Nights car show is also a fun event. We rented a very nice 3 bedroom condo via VRBO in Lake Village. These condos are arranged on a hill across the main road from the lake but since the hill is fairly steep many of them must have views of the lake. We had this view of the lake from a balcony just off our bedroom on the 3rd floor.

View from the Lake Village Condo at Lake Tahoe

We knew we would be cutting it close on time with the drive from San Francisco, but decided to get tickets to a concert our first night in Lake Tahoe. The first band up was Steve Miller. We had seen him a couple years earlier at the San Diego Fair at Del Mar and knew we would enjoy the show.

Steve Miller on the Guitar Lake Tahoe

The outdoor venue was surrounded by the beauty of Lake Tahoe and the event was well run.

Steve Miller at Lake Tahoe

There was a little weirdness in the Porta John area though. They had large multiple urinal porta johns with no doors. This seemed a bit strange since this was a coed area. There were also a lot of people smoking pot at the back of this area. I’m used to the smell at concerts in San Diego, but this was different.

The headliner was Journey – another great band from my youth. Although their lead singer, Steve Perry, no longer sings with the band, the current lead singer, Arnel Pineda, was great. Pineda sang in a cover band and was found by the band in a YouTube video.

Journey just getting started Lake Tahoe

With the long drive, some great music, and a few beers, it was pretty easy to get a good nights sleep. We woke up pretty early the next morning and went out on the balcony to enjoy the cool morning air and more of the great views of the lake.

One of my favorite things about our trip to in 2009, other than the nightly card games, was a catamaran tour on the lake. We decided to got out again this time. A different group, but just as much fun, and the Lake was just as blue!

The group on the Catamaran Lake Tahoe

The water of Lake Tahoe is an almost unreal blue color. It makes you suspect that someone dumped a few tons of “2000 Flushes” toilet bowl cleaner into the lake!

Lake Tahoe Catamaran

The Bloody Marys were as good as I remembered too. We had plenty of time to start the day off right and to clear the cobwebs of the long drive and long day we had yesterday.

Jenny and Eric on the Catamaran Lake Tahoe

What a beautiful lake!

Unbelievably blue water of Lake Tahoe

I’m putting renting a sail boat on my list for our next visit. I’d love the freedom to sail to where we want to go, especially under good sailing conditions. I’ll have to do some additional research to find a rental sailboat though, a quick look found no rental websites that include sailboats.

We decided to head down to Reno to check out some of the classic cars there for Hot Augusts Nights. There are tons of classic cars on display during this week. There is no way to see all of them, and I can’t imagine even having that as a goal. We decided to check out the cars lined up for the Barrett-Jackson auction. Although I love classic American cars, especially muscle cars, for some reason I was drawn to something different. I would love to own one of these 1966 Toyota Landcruiser FJ-40’s.

Hot August Nights classic Toyota Land Cruiser

The interior was as pristine as the exterior on this one.

Interior of the 1966Toyota Landcruiser FJ-40

I was curious about what it sold for… so I looked it up on the Barrett-Jackson site under results, $30,250.00. Not that bad considering the condition!

The next morning we were up fairly early drinking our coffee on the balcony when we noticed a hot air balloon floating over the lake. A beautiful and serene sight, but it looked like it could be pretty easy to get stuck just floating over the middle of the lake on a calm day.

Balloon about to land on the water of Lake Tahoe

I’m not sure if that is what happened, but a little later we noticed that the balloon had landed on a boat in the middle of the lake.

Balloon lands on a boat on Lake Tahoe

We were getting ready to go back up to Reno, so I’m not sure if they carried the balloon in or if it went back up. Part of our group had left really early to get back up to Reno to put out the cars for the show. A few of us… me, Jenny and Wendy decided to put the top down and take a slow ride around the west side of the lake before going to Reno. Emerald bay was our favorite part of the drive. This is a very cool part of the lake with an interesting history.

The island in Emerald Bay Lake Tahoe

Also I got to be a kid and climb up on a rock to pose for a picture!

Eric on a rock Lake Tahoe

By the time we got to Tahoe City nearer to the north end of Lake Tahoe we decided we better get back to Reno a little quicker. This would be Jenny and my last day for Hot August Nights in Reno. We had decided to stay one more night in Tahoe, then head back to San Diego. The rest of the group would be staying the last night in Reno before towing their cars back to Boise.

Although it was a very hot day in Reno, we spent most of the afternoon checking out cars. Jenny’s favorite was this blue Mustang fastback.

Mustang fastback on display at Hot August Nights in Reno Nevada 2014

Mustangs have never been my favorites, but this was definitely a sweet one! We also spent a bit of time hanging out at Dave’s car, a 1968 Chevy Camaro SS. The Camaro is the car I wish I had been smart enough to buy in 1976 when I bought my first car. When I look at the prices these cars sold for new I’m pretty sure one of these could not have been too much more expensive than the 1972 Nova I bought. This is also one of my favorite classic cars to look at. Riding in the Camaro is a little different, there are definitely better rides out there. Dave just finished doing some major work on this car and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t this nice even new!

Daves Camaro

We decided to head back to Tahoe for Dinner. The Beacon Bar and Grill in Camp Richardson had good recommendations and we wanted to get away from the crowd and be right by the lake, so this was perfect. The night could not have been better for dinner outside by the lake. Our table had a great view of the lake…

Dinner at the Beacon Bar and Grill Lake Tahoe

and we had a pretty good view of the family of racoons who were hanging out under the restaurant’s deck.

Racoons under the deck at the Beacon Bar and Grill Lake Tahoe

Looking back nearly a year later (yes I’m way behind on my blog posts), I’m eager to get together with Dave and Wendy again soon. I wish I could convince them to move to San Diego, and I know Dave would like us to move up to Boise, but we’ll have to be happy with vacations and visits until one of us puts together the perfect argument! Luckily a couple of weddings this summer will get us together in both Boise and San Diego so we’ll have our best chance to “make the pitch”. We’re also headed to Maui together in the fall… maybe we can all just pack it in and move there!